Town Meeting Upholds & Affirms Adding Two Firefighter/EMTs
by Connie Sartini,
With a resounding vote of support, the majority of the estimated 344 voters present at the 2019 Spring Town Meeting agreed to add two new Firefighter/EMTs to the Groton Fire Department, now ensuring coverage for residents during the late evening and early morning hours.
Groton Finance Committee unanimously supported the addition of the personnel while four of the five members of the Select Board and four of the five members Fire Department Task Force Committee also supported the hiring of the two full-time Firefighter/EMTs to the Department.
The sole Select Board member in opposition was Becky Pine who presented a minority report in which, she pointed out that a study done for the Groton Fire Department said, “If the town wants to go to 24x7 coverage, they should consider adding two firefighter/EMTs in the first year and two in the second year.”
Pine stressed that she felt there was “not enough public discussion on whether or not to go to 7x24 coverage,” noting that this addition would double the Department from five full-time Firefighter/EMTs to nine. “There is no question that the ideal would be a fully staffed Fire Department, but the real world we live in (such a solution) costs money. We have to decide how much we are willing to pay.”
Finance Committee Chairman Gary Green said that the Finance Committee voted unanimously to hire the Firefighter personnel following a detailed discussion with Fire Chief Steele McCurdy. “This conversation made all the difference. The issue of On-Call numbers on the roster of those that actively and regularly turn out has reached a point of crisis. Our handful of volunteers burns out.” He said the proposed 7x24 availability would bolster the On-Call Fire Department.
Green stressed, “On-Call Fire Departments are tough in America and we are concerned as a Finance Committee that we need to back up our Chief and support this to relieve the pressure so that we avoid larger problems in the future.”
Chief McCurdy said, “I want to take this opportunity to thank all our call firefighters. We have been debating and talking about this for years. I spent 16 years in Littleton Fire Department where I saw many of the issues (there), we are experiencing today. I have seen this before and there are serious consequences if we don’t do this.”
FinCom member Art Prest pointed out that the response times during the manned hours of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. is between 3.9 to 6.9 minutes, but during the unmanned hours of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. that increases from between 7.4 to 24 minutes. He stressed that the longer response times can cause major increases in mortality rates, particularly in rural areas.
A member of the Call Department, Matt Pisani, advised voters that many efforts have been made to attract residents to join the Call Department, including mailings to homes, and recruiting tables at
Grotonfest and Riverfest. “Being on a call department is a serious commitment and it is tough to convince someone to do this, but there are folks that want to give back to the community. It affects our jobs, our livelihood and our health.” He stressed that even with these challenges, the “Call Department is not going anywhere.”
Former FinCom member Bob Hargraves said he wanted, “To compliment the Chief on all the work he has done.” Hargraves said he “watched meeting after meeting at the Town Hall. Enough is enough. Why are we beating up the Fire Department the way we beat up the Police?” He advised voters, “Do your job and stop appointing a study committee to study another study committee.”
“We have been discussing this for a long time and we’ve hit the wall,” Selectman Josh Degen said, adding, “I support this and I hope you will.”
Resident Alison Palmisano, who lost her Dad in a Groton house fire told voters that “these guys were working non-stop,” and urged voters to support the addition of the proposed two Firefighter/EMTs. “I experienced a loss,” she said, adding, “We need these two firefighters.”
Voters supported the total budget for Protection of Persons and Property of $4,052,444 following application of funds from the Fire and Emergency Services Medical Services receipts, and from Free Cash.
Town Meeting, “We were looking at one offer (to purchase). I have concerns about it costing us more than anticipated. We can’t afford it at this juncture. I can’t support the want of a building.
”Friends of Prescott President Mary Jennings said that the Friends have invested “over $55,000 in the building. We provide different types of education at different times of the day.” She said she was proud to say that there have been over 555 people registered in the various classes.
Jennings advised voter, “An empty building, while it waits to be sold, is a building in danger. It would be a dark building in the center of our community.